If you follow the upper path at our Read Island lodge – through the forest, over the creek, past the showers and sauna – you’ll find a shady trail that leads uphill. As you hike, distant bird calls mingle with the rush and tumble of a small waterfall, and soon you’ll come to a wooden gate. Inside is Lannie’s pride and joy: the garden.
This brilliantly green patch of land is home to three small greenhouses and 52 big and small garden beds that contain an array of vegetables, berries and flowers. We spend the spring preparing and planting, and then every day during the summer, we bring down whatever is ready to incorporate into our meals. There might be a tote full of zucchinis, buckets of raspberries, huge stalks of rhubarb, handfuls of peas, lush heads of lettuce and young kale leaves, endless beans, bunches of broccoli and cauliflower, fresh herbs and flowers, and more. Later in the season the blackberries are ripe to bursting, the apples go into pies, the garlic is ready to pick and dry, and the tomatoes, corn and potatoes are finally ready.
We use our own produce wherever we can in our meals, as you know if you’ve ever had one of our raspberry and rhubarb pies, zucchini boats, or amazing green salads! The possibilities are endless and head chef Lannie tries to explore all of them. Having fresh, homegrown ingredients really does make a difference to our food and we’re proud to grow them.
But a lot of work goes into maintaining the garden, and it’s never been easy. When Ralph and Lannie first moved to Read Island back in the 1970s, they had to start a garden from scratch. Their first garden was tiny, located down by the current chicken coop. The next iteration was a small plot up behind the shower and saunas. Finally, they scouted out and tackled the larger-scale flatland up the hill.
Before they could implement Lannie’s grand growing plan, they first had to clear away a few trees. Blowing up 13 old growth stumps with dynamite was… exciting! – although Lannie now considers such giant stumps to be historical monuments. They asked a local logger to clear the trees and debris, but an unfortunate misunderstanding led him to also scrape off all the topsoil – so the land was scalped of all its nutrients and Lannie then had a long, slow struggle to rebuild the soil. Ever-resourceful, she organised to take bucketfuls of dead salmon from a local fish farm, which she dug in, along with seaweed, sawdust, and chicken manure. Over time decomposition fed nitrogen and other nutrients back into the land (although the salmon was also a draw for black bears…).
Today the garden is bountiful, but the struggle still continues against slug invasions, aphid infestations, and bears – who now occasionally drop in for a few apples. Luckily Lannie and Ralph have a bit of help to manage everything. For many years they’ve hosted volunteers from around the world through a program called WWOOFing, where people come for a few weeks at a time to help out with garden work and experience island life. There’s plenty to do: slugs to hunt down, seedlings to plant and transplant, tomatoes to tie, flowers to pick, lawns to mow, baby lettuces to nurture, ripe produce to harvest…the list is endless.
The volunteers keep things running during the hectic summers when Lannie is usually tied up in the kitchen, but she still loves to get up into the garden at any chance and lose herself in the dirty and rewarding work of growing food for the family and for everyone who visits us.
There’s something wonderfully meditative about being outside in the garden every single day, hands in the dirt, surrounded by forest, witness to the slow progress from seed to harvest. A garden can teach you so much about the incredible effort (and joy) that goes into good food.
Written by: Lauren Fuge